Collaboration Lessons from the Tour De France
What does cycling have to do with collaboration? A lot, it turns out. Today's contribution comes from Professor Robyn Keast is the Chair of Collaborative Research Network Policy and Planning for Regional Sustainability, and located at the Southern Cross University. Dr Brent Moyle works in Sustainable Tourism and Climate Change, Griffith University.
The Tour De France is commonly acknowledged as the world’s most challenging sporting event with cyclists covering 3360kms in three weeks.
To succeed in this race, cyclists need the right team behind them, to work together as a team, and to have the ability to recognise when to work with other cyclists and teams. In the Tour de France there are three key disciplines where successful practices for team work are critical, including the peloton, the team time trial and the breakaway. Cyclists, unlike many businesses, are highly strategic in their approach to team work.
Research has identified three ways in which people, including sportspeople, and organisations can work together: cooperation, coordination and collaboration.
In cycling the peloton is a classic example of cooperation, as teams do not have the same objectives or roles. Instead, teams agree to loosely work together to share the overall load, communicate just enough that they don’t get in each other’s way and protect their teams.
Meanwhile, the team time trial typifies coordination as members are completely aligned, committed to achieving a shared goal, planning is a key task, resources are aligned and actions synchronised.
By contrast, during a breakaway, cyclists from opposing teams temporarily collaborate in their efforts to achieve a joint goal, which is to keep in front of the peloton, and for one to win the stage. The breakaway draws on the collective effort of the group to create collaborative rather than competitive advantage to advance its goals. There is a higher level of commitment required in the breakaway, as cyclists realise that if the smaller group stops working together they will be caught. However, there is still an element of uncertainty, as each cyclist in the breakaway is not sure who will win the stage.
For governments, businesses and non-profits alike, cooperation and networking is sufficient if the need is just to share information and adjust actions to achieve individual goals. However, if better alignment of resources, reduction of overlap and duplication, along with the achievement of joint outcomes is a goal, then coordination is more appropriate. Cooperation and coordination are sufficient for doing the same work – but more efficiently.
Collaboration on the other hand is about different and innovative approaches for doing business, and often involves changes to entire systems. Done well, collaboration can produce breakthrough results. However collaboration is costly, requiring high levels of trust and shared power, and is very risky because organisations cannot always control the outcomes.
Performance enhancement scandals aside, there are some powerful lessons that can be taken from cycling to help any organisation or group stay in front of the pack. Being more strategic about when and how to work together and matching tactics to fit the situation are two key messages. Monitoring the external environment and critically reviewing approaches to working and the competition are also important. Like cyclists, any competitive organisation must spend time monitoring the way the race is progressing, critically reviewing and improving current approaches to working together with a view toward developing winning tactics, rather than just keeping up.